Olympics 2016: Barack backs "most American of America's cities" in host bid

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The Olympics movement likes to portray itself as a beacon of light on the sporting landscape but bidding for the event is a murky affair, says Richard Douglas in this compelling discussion of how bettors can profit from the race to host the 2016 games.

As the greatest middle-distance runner of his generation, Sebastian Coe knows the importance of a 'kick' down the final straight.

Despite all the tactics, jostling and mind games of the previous laps, it is often this simple burst of speed that takes you to the tape first. Seb Coe employed it on track in 1980s, Lord Coe did the same thing when winning the 2012 Olympic bid for London three years ago.

On the face of it, Paris appeared to have the decision in the bag. They had come top of the technical evaluation and seemed likely to hold off strong opposition from London and Madrid.

However Coe used his skills of Parliamentary persuasion to their maximum. He instructed his staff to be able to explain the key points of their bid in the time it took to go down three floors in a lift or draw it on a napkin if they managed to corner an IOC member at a function.
This micro-lobbying may have been just as effective as bringing out Tony Blair and David Beckham for the crucial vote in Singapore.

Bear this in mind when looking at Chicago's pre-eminence (2.2) in the race to host the summer games in 2016. They may have only come third in the most recent technical assessment but they have strong public support, excellent existing stadia, superb transport... oh... and the most powerful man in world backing them to the hilt. When he was merely a Chicago Senator, Barack Obama said: "I can think of no better place to hold the 2016 Games than in this most American of America's cities".

It is already being widely suggested that the newly-elected President will visit Copenhagen ahead of the crucial vote on October 2, 2009. It could be decisive.
Of course, Obama's political honeymoon might be well and truly over by then. After all, we are in the midst of the worst global economic crisis in a century and Obama swept to power like some kind of political panacea. If he makes some early blunders the tide could be against him late next year.

In addition, there is said to be tension between the IOC and the US Olympic Committee over global marketing rights, American broadcast rights and financial backing.

Tokyo (4.8) too thinks their President may help their chances. Tsunekazu Takeda will not go down as the greatest Olympian ever after finishing 41st in the mixed skeet shooting in Montreal 1976 but he is the only major statesman with direct experience of the competition.

Tokyo's bid came top in that technical assessment and, like Barcelona and London, it aims to regenerate a run-down part of the city. They have also employed the same PR firm who helped secure Sydney and Beijing the summer games and Turin and Sochi the winter version. Still, despite the fact that the IOC have no official rotation policy, there is a feeling that a return to that part of Asia eight years after China would not be beneficial for the movement.

Madrid (11.0) could also suffer for geographical reasons. Despite the Paris-London axis in 2012 bid, it was very much a three-horse race and the Spanish capital received the most votes in the second round of polling. Local support is running at a staggering 85 per cent and many venues are in place as a result of staging the Athletics World Cup in 2002. However after London 2012 and the winter games in Sochi, Russia in 2014 it is doubtful the IOC would want to stay in Europe.

Rio (4.0), on the other hand, would spread the Olympic message to a new area - no South American country has ever held the games. Their technical assessment was the lowest of the four remaining cities - Doha, Prague and Baku were ejected in the summer on that basis - but public support is a healthy 78 per cent.
There are worrying reports they have abandoned plans to build a metro and will rely on bus lanes for almost all transportation around the city. However a much more important factor is the World Cup in 2014.

There are precedents for the globe's greatest athletics and football events going to same country back-to-back - US 94/96, Mexico 68/70, Germany 72/74 - however one IOC member recently said they did not like the Games to be thought of "as pudding" after the main meal.

The Olympics movement may like to portray itself as a beacon of light on the sporting landscape however, in reality, bidding for the event is a murky world. In the recent past, we have seen how profit-making and bribes can be as influential in the final decision as proper planning and legacy.

No-one is suggesting that sort of skulduggery will come into play before October's decision. However, it must be remembered that, despite the technical aspects of the bids, this is still a subjective decision made by human beings.

And where there is unpredictability, there is profit.
5 December 2008 / About Richard Douglas
 

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